Musée de Préhistoire des Gorges du Verdon

This museum, located in the medieval village of Quinson in Haute Provence, preserves and illustrates the rich traces of Stone Age life uncovered within the exceptional archaeological site of the nearby Gorges du Verdon. The architecture of Quinson is characterised by traditional stone buildings and drystone walls and the new building responds to this context by combining modern construction techniques with local materials used in their simplest, most expressive form.

The museum is one of a family of buildings that are partially buried or cut into their sites in order to reduce their apparent scale. Here, the sloping ground was used to advantage, allowing the museum to be folded into the landscape in section. The ‘dug-in’ edge of the lenticular plan – a form reminiscent of a calisson, a Provençal delicacy − is defined by a long drystone retaining wall. This wall continues the line of an existing village wall and flows into the building to guide visitors into the double-height foyer. This space is designed to be cool and refreshing on a hot summer’s day − reminiscent of a wine cellar, or one of the caves that the museum celebrates. 

The building is multi-functional, including areas for academic study alongside a reference library and research laboratories. On the ground level, accessed from the foyer, a children’s teaching area reinforces the building’s social and educational programme, while its auditorium, capable of seating 100 people for lectures, can be used independently for village events. From the foyer, a curved ramp leads up to the first floor to begin the circular route around the museum display. Ambient light levels within the galleries are kept to a minimum and light is focused on the objects rather than the space. Dioramas show scenes of hunting, fishing and other aspects of Stone Age life. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a reconstruction of one of the caves in the Gorges du Verdon, which are otherwise inaccessible.

Foster has given Provence a museum of prehistory that has vast popular appeal without being kitsch, and which is simple without being simplistic.



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